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Hollywood's Comeback Kid at 80

Former blacklisted actor continues to act while making nonprofit films that teach tolerance

BY RENA DICTOR LEBLANC - SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTIONS WRITER

Character actor Allan Rich has been in more than 68 feature films, but says his greatest satisfaction comes from producing nonprofit movies for children that promote tolerance, discourage violence and caution against drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse.

Allan Rich may be one of the most unusual actors in Hollywood. The character actor is 80 years old and still going strong in feature films and on TV.

It's a career that he started as a teenager in New York. Milton Berle, of all people, gave him his first job in a play called "I'll Take the High Road." Rich went on to work with such luminaries as Edward G. Robinson in a road show, Henry Fonda in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie "Gideon's Trumpet" and Claude Rains in the Broadway staging of "Darkness at Noon."

At an age where most people have retired, he continues to act in television and movies and has also expanded his ?lm horizons. Because of his love for children and knowledge of the motion picture industry, Rich co-founded a nonprofit ?lm company in 1994 called We Care About Kids. His partner is actor, writer and director Peter Antico.

Of all his roles, it is his work on the movies that teach tolerance to young people that he finds most rewarding, Rich said. "The best thing I do is what I do for the kids," he said. "The teachers will say to me, 'Please come back. You've helped the children immensely. You've taught them things they never would have heard before.'"

Photo by SPIKE NANNARELLO

"I thought he was going to make a funny face," said Rich of this shot with Milton Berle. "He didn't. I did."

The organization has produced seven short films that discourage violence, promote ethnic and religious tolerance and raise awareness of the harmful effects of drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse. The movies are shown free at middle schools and high schools, and are followed by discussions on the issues presented in the film between the students and Rich, Antico and other celebrities.

"It was a wonderful experience to have Allan on campus with other celebrities and the town hall meeting after the film," said Irene Petty, dean of attendance at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. "It's an excellent instructional tool to get kids involved in critical thinking skills... The kids were very appreciative."

If ever there was a comeback kid, it's Rich, a genial, witty actor whose career screeched to a stop when he was branded a Communist in 1953 and blacklisted during the McCarthy era. At first he had no choice but to take menial jobs to support his family. Later, he detoured and became a Wall Street broker, followed by a sharp U-turn to become proprietor of the Allan Rich Art Gallery in Manhattan. But all the while he yearned for his first love, acting.

He was finally able to re-launch his film career many years later. After closing the art gallery, he went on to act in 68 feature films and more than 75 television shows and movies. His recent credits include "The Division," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "CSI." He has recently finished five feature films, written two scripts in current development and is the author of a book on acting called "A Leap From the Method" from Author House, expected to be released before Christmas.

Among his upcoming films are "Lies and Alibis" expected o t be released this month, as well as "Man in the Chair" and "The Memory Thief," which do not have release dates yet. Rich has also taught acting to stars including Sharon Stone, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jack Scalia.

What further makes Rich an oddity in Hollywood, the realm of marital musical chairs, is his 55-year marriage to his wife Elaine Rich. They have a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.

Rich's friend of 28 years, Fran Drescher, star of the hit television series "The Nanny," described him as an inspiration "because he's still working, creating and very philanthropic at 80. He's just got boundless energy and joie de vivre. That's what keeps him young, I think." We talked to Rich at his charming home nestled on a Hollywood hilltop, the walls resplendent with paintings and photos of Hollywood stars:

Photo by TED ROBERTS

Rich with Elaine, his wife of 55 years. "She's an amazing woman" and "one of the great cooks of all time," he said.

WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO THE FIRST MOVIE YOU MADE ABOUT PREJUDICE AGAINST THE JEWS IN NAZI GERMANY?

It was tremendous. The children went crazy about it. We had a question and answer period and they talked about prejudice and what it meant to them. The Mexican, black and Asian children have experienced it. At the end of the meeting in an auditorium I say, 'What you should do is turn around and hug your neighbor.

And have you ever hugged an old white Jew?' I go down and I hug all the kids. Every time I did this, one or two kids said, 'No body has ever hugged me in my whole life.' I still cry when I hear it.

We made two films on smoking. One of the characters in that movie talks about his smoking and how he got throat cancer. I have letters from the kids who said, 'I'll never touch a cigarette.'

WHY WERE YOU BLACKLISTED?

I was in The Theater Action Committee to free a black man in the early '50s. In 1953, I had the lead on a television show called Philco Playhouse. I came in on Monday morning to rehearse. The casting director said, 'Allan, come up to my office.' He said, 'We're going another way. NBC loves you. You'll work for us a lot.'

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT WHEN HE TOLD YOU THIS?

I was devastated.

DID YOU KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING?

I had no idea. My agent never sent me out [on another audition]. I would walk into an office, making the rounds. And I'd walk out going phhffffft. It took a year till an actor said to me, 'Hey, we're on Red Channels.' If your name was on that list, Goooooood-byyyyye! You never worked. Elaine got a job as a secretary.

WHAT DID IT FEEL LIKE TO GO FROM THE ACTING THAT YOU LOVED TO NOTHING?

I thought I lost all my talent.

YOU THOUGHT IT WAS YOUR FAULT?

Of course. Nobody told me [he was blacklisted]. Awful!

AND WHEN YOU FOUND OUT YOU WERE ON THE LIST?

I laughed. I called Elaine. I said, 'Elaine, guess what? I'M ON THE BLACKLIST! IT WASN'T ME!'

HOW DID YOU GET INTO ART?

I answered an ad on Wall Street. In five years, I was selling stocks and making a ton of money. I started collecting art. When the market fell out of bed, I opened my own art gallery, The Allan Rich Gallery in New York. I had clients that were sensational, the Kennedys, Mrs. Ford (from the automaker family).

WHAT HAS GIVEN YOU THE STRENGTH TO JUST RISE UP AGAIN, TIME AFTER TIME?

My wife. She's an amazing woman. No matter what I did in the early period of our marriage, she stuck to me like glue. She's my sense of reality.

HOW DI D YOU GET BACK INTO ACTING?

After I made a lot of money in the art business, I called my old manager and said, 'Betty, I'm ready.' It was always percolating in my mind: I've got t o go back. In 1971, I did "Serpico." And I never stopped working.

WHEN YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO BE HIRED FOR "SERPICO," WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?

I was on a major high. I came home and told Elaine. She said, 'Who's in it?' I said some guy named Pacino. She said, 'I never heard of him.'

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE ROLE?

I have lots of favorite roles. "Disclosure" was the most fun with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. I played Demi Moore's attorney.

WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING AS AN ACTOR?

I'm egoless. I just do my job, which I enjoy doing. I remember when I did a play called "Darkness At Noon," I played the part of Prisoner 202. I read everything I could lay my hands on about indefinite internment. The part was three lines. A reviewer said I was the greatest reality in the play. I did five movies last year. Not bad for an old guy.

HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR ENERGY AND YOUR HEALTH TO DO ALL THE THINGS YOU'RE DOING?

My wife is one of the great cooks of all time. I like to cook and help her. I eat a lot of vegetables and I turn away a lot of food. Less is more. No junk food. Longevity is a responsibility.

Based in Sherman Oaks, freelance writer Rena Dictor LeBlanc has been covering human interest and celebrity stories for decades.

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